Bush steps up domestic spying propaganda

    President Bush and top aides stoutly defended his wiretapping
    directive Monday, launching a three-day offensive to regain control of
    public debate on the controversy in advance of congressional hearings.

    Democrats fired back with a barrage of pointed criticisms about the
    electronic eavesdropping program Bush authorized shortly after the
    Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

    During a broader address on Iraq and
    terrorism at Kansas State University, Bush described the surveillance
    initiative _ which set off a political firestorm when it was revealed
    last month _ as legal, limited in scope and necessary to protect
    Americans. “I made the decision to do the following things because
    there’s an enemy that still wants to harm the American people,” Bush
    said. “What I’m talking about is the intercept of certain
    communications emanating between somebody inside the United States and
    outside the United States, and one of the numbers would be reasonably
    suspected to be an al Qaeda link or affiliate. In other words, we have
    ways to determine whether or not someone can be an al Qaeda affiliate
    or al Qaeda. And if they’re making a phone call in the United States,
    it seems like to me we want to know why.”

    Bush said he acted legally.

    “If I wanted to break the law, why was I briefing Congress?” Bush said.
    “Federal courts have consistently ruled that a president has authority
    under the Constitution to conduct foreign intelligence surveillance
    against our enemies. Predecessors of mine have used that same
    constitutional authority.”

    Congressional leaders from both
    parties have complained that the briefings didn’t fully disclose the
    scope of the program, and Republicans have joined Democrats in raising
    concerns. Sen. Arlen Specter, chairman of the Senate Judiciary
    Committee, summoned Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to testify about
    the eavesdropping at a Feb. 6 hearing.

    The core issue is whether
    Bush had the legal power to bypass a special, closed-door court
    Congress set up in 1978 to issue warrants for foreign intelligence

    At a contentious news conference in Washington,
    Gen. Michael Hayden, who headed the National Security Agency when it
    implemented Bush’s eavesdropping directive, repeatedly said the program
    safeguarded civil liberties.

    “When you’re talking to your
    daughter at state college, this program cannot intercept your
    conversations,” said Hayden, now deputy director of intelligence in the
    government’s reorganized espionage apparatus. “And when she takes a
    semester abroad to complete her Arabic studies, this program will not
    intercept your communications.”

    Sharply rebuffing news reports
    of “domestic spying” as distorted, Hayden said: “This isn’t a driftnet
    out there where we’re soaking up everyone’s communications. We are
    going after very specific communications that our professional judgment
    tells us we have reason to believe are those associated with people who
    want to kill Americans.”

    An Arab journalist asked Hayden whether
    the program is targeting Arab Americans or Muslim Americans, and a
    member of an anti-war group demanded to know whether conversations
    among Bush’s political foes are being monitored. Hayden responded no to

    Gonzales was to deliver an address on the surveillance
    initiative Tuesday while Bush is scheduled to visit the NSA
    headquarters at Fort Meade, Md., on Wednesday.

    Sen. Harry Reid
    of Nevada, the Senate Democratic leader, issued one statement rebutting
    Bush’s assertions about the wiretapping and a second release that
    criticized Hayden’s claims.

    “We will stop at nothing to hunt
    down and defeat the terrorists, and we will do that by holding firm to
    our deepest values of democracy and liberty,” Reid said. “That is why
    Americans of all backgrounds and political parties are concerned about
    NSA’s domestic spying program. I am eager for the Bush administration
    to level with the American people and participate fully and openly in
    the congressional hearings.”

    In the second release, Reid’s
    office issued a “fact check” on Hayden’s briefing, giving it a C-minus
    grade and deriding it as “poorly researched.”

    Hours before
    Bush’s speech, Dan Bartlett, counselor to the president, appeared on
    five morning TV shows to defend the eavesdropping.

    “What the
    president has authorized, this terrorist surveillance program, is
    absolutely what the American people should expect from their commander
    in chief,” Bartlett told NBC.

    Traveling with reporters aboard
    Air Force One en route to Kansas, White House press secretary Scott
    McClellan criticized “some Democratic leaders that have continued to
    engage in misleading, false attacks about this vital tool.”